- Jake Trotter, College Football
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As a freshman safety six years ago, Clayton whiffed tackling Washington's Kenny James, who coasted 54 yards for a touchdown. Clayton was banished to the bench. The following season he redshirted. He wondered if he'd ever get back on the field. He contemplated transferring, even giving up football altogether.
But Clayton ultimately stuck with it. Two years later he reemerged in the starting lineup at nickelback. A year after that, he was all-conference. Today, he's a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I knew I was better than how I had played at first," Clayton said. "I just wanted to let everybody know, that wasn't me. That was the mindset I had."
Clayton's backstory could serve as the blueprint for Lynn and Harris making comebacks.
Like Clayton, Lynn and Harris were benched last season for giving up big plays. In relief of an injured Jamell Fleming, Lynn was torched as the boundary cornerback by Texas Tech, which went on to snap OU's 39-game home-winning streak.
Harris surrendered several huge pass plays up the middle to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who solidified his Heisman campaign by throwing for 479 yards in a 45-38 victory over the Sooners.
"What I would tell them is that the past is the past," Clayton said. "Don't dwell on it. Because if you dwell on it, that's going to make you think about it more, then you're going to be more cautious and you're not going to play to your potential."
Clayton, who still closely follows the Sooners, sees potential in both Lynn and Harris, despite their struggles. Lynn is a former No. 1 Sooner State recruit. Harris, despite making too many mistakes, also came up with several big plays, including two key interceptions in the win at Florida State.
"They just need to do what they were brought here to do, what they've been doing their whole lives," Clayton said, "and that's play ball."
Clayton admits that's easier said than done. He got so discouraged during his sophomore season that he packed his bags with the intention to leave school. But encouragement from his father and former OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables kept Clayton from tossing in the towel.
"That's why I have so much respect for Coach V to this day," Clayton said. "He's one of the most straightforward coaches I've ever had. After he moved me to (nickelback), eventually things started to turn around."
Things might already be turning around for Harris. With Aaron Colvin sitting out the spring with a shoulder injury, Harris has gotten several snaps with the first-team defense at safety alongside Tony Jefferson. Like Venables did with Clayton, new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops isn't giving up on Harris.
"Javon Harris has played awfully well, I've been really pleased with his progression this spring," Stoops said. "He's been really good. He's playing very confident right now, I've been really pleased with him. It's been all about getting him to understand his position on the field."
Lynn too has been rotating in at cornerback this spring, and though he appears to be outside the starting lineup at the moment, he still has two more years of eligibility remaining.
"Both of those guys, they got the potential," Clayton said. "They just need to relax, have fun, let the past go. ... and just go and do it."
Gabe Lynn and Javon Harris were benched last season for giving up big plays. And former Sooner Keenan Clayton knows what it's like to dig his way out of the doghouse.